E-discovery Master Craig Ball recently provided lawyers with a good reminder of the risks associated with using keyword search to locate relevant records in e-discovery.  Speaking at the Toronto Technology in Practice 2015 conference Ball observed that, while lawyers are comfortable using strong search tools such as Google or Lexis Nexis, they must exercise caution in using simple keywords to search for relevant evidence.  Alternate spellings or nicknames that aren’t included in the search will result in records being missed.  Search engines are often designed to skip common words that may be important. Further, password protected and encrypted records, as well as photos, audio and video files are invisible to keyword searching.

If you insist on using keywords, test and modify your keywords to ensure that all key terms are captured including variant spellings abbreviations and acronyms etc.  Don’t trust your intuition – validating keywords by looking at what they missed is essential.  Identify records that cannot be searched, and deal with them separately.

Once you have a searchable set, a better solution is to use Technology Assisted Review (TAR) where users identify relevant records, and then similar records are identified by the software.  TAR avoids the human error inherent in selecting keywords by using all of the content of documents to find similar ones.  The TAR is very effective in locating relevant records in large record collections.  It also learns what records are not relevant, which means that fewer irrelevant records are reviewed.  The objective in e-discovery is an accurate and speedy review. Using keywords alone will undermine both speed and accuracy unless careful validation is undertaken.  Adding TAR to your process will provide better results in most cases.

The bottom line:  Lawyers should consider TAR to reduce risks and cost associated with keyword search in e-discovery.